A brief history of bio-chemical weapons
by Zoltan Grossman* 400s BC: Spartan Greeks use sulphur fumes against enemy soldiers. 1346: Crimean Tatars catapult plague-infected corpses into Italian trade settlement. 1500: Spanish conquistadors use biological warfare against Native peoples. 1763: British General Jeffrey Amherst orders use of smallpox blankets against Native peoples during Pontiac's Rebellion. 1800: Small Pox and other diseases ravage Native American communities; US officials use quarantine techniques to isolate diseases in white communities but not in Native villages. 1907: Hague Convention outlaws chemical weapons; US does not participate. 1914-18: Poison gas causes 100,000 deaths and 900,000 injuries during World War I. 1920s: Britain proposes use of chemical weapons in Iraq "as an experiment" against Kurdish rebels seeking independence; Winston Churchill "strongly" backs "the use of poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes". 1928: Geneva Protocol prohibits gas and bacteriological warfare: most ratifying countries prohibit only the first use of such weapons. 1935: Italy begins conquest of Ethiopia using mustard gas. 1936: Japan invades China, uses chemical weapons in war. 1939-45: During World War II: A US ship damaged by German bombing raid on Bari, Italy, leaks mustard gas, killing 1000. Germany uses Zyklon-B in extermination of civilians. Japanese military conducts biological warfare experiments on POWs, killing 3000. US shields Nazi military officers from war crimes trials in return for data. Soviets take over German nerve gas facility in Potsdam, discovering the Nazis had stockpiles of nerve gas, and had also been working on blood agents. 1947: US possesses germ warfare weapons; President Truman withdraws Geneva Protocol from Senate consideration. 1949: Soviet Union tries Japanese military officers for germ warfare, dismissed by US as "propaganda". US army begins secret tests of biological agents in US cities. 1950: Korean War begins; North Korea and China accuse US of germ warfare. A disease outbreak in San Francisco matches bacteria used by army. 1951: African-Americans exposed to potentially fatal stimulant in Virginia test of race specific fungal weapons. 1956: Army manual explicitly states that bio-chemical warfare is not banned. Gerald Ford wins US policy change to give US military "first strike" authority on chemical arms. 1959: US Congress resolution against first use of bio-chemical weapons is defeated. 1961: Kennedy administration begins funding hike for chemical weapons from $75 million to more than $330 million. 1962: Chemical weapons loaded on US planes during Cuban missile crisis. 1966: Army germ warfare experiment in New York subway system. 1968: Pentagon asks to use some of its arsenal against protesters to demonstrate the "efficacy" of the chemicals. 1969: Utah chemical weapons accident kills thousands of sheep; President Nixon declares US moratorium on chemical weapons production and biological weapons possession. UN General Assembly bans use of herbicides (plant killers) and tear gasses in warfare: US one of three opposing votes. Fatalities when US uses tear gas against Vietnamese in guerrilla tunnels. 1971: US ends direct use of herbicides such as Agent Orange, which had spread over Indochinese forests and destroyed at least six per cent of South Vietnamese cropland. US military forces give swine-flu virus to anti- Castro paramilitary group, which lands it on Cuba's Southern Coast (according to 1977 reports). 1972: Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention. Cuba accuses CIA of instilling swine fever virus that leads to death of 500,000 hogs. 1974: US finally ratifies 1928 Geneva Protocol. 1975: Indonesia annexes East Timor; planes spread herbicides on croplands. 1975: Washington Post reports on US program against Cuban agriculture since 1962, including CIA biological warfare component. Anthrax outbreak among Africans in white-ruled Rhodesia results in 10,000 cases, 182 of them fatal (see "Covert Action Quarterly #43"). 1980: US intelligence officials allege Soviet chemical use in Afghanistan, while admitting "no confirmation". Congress approves nerve gas facility at Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Iraq begins eight-year war with Iran. 1981: Vietnam accuses the US and allies of using Mycotoxins (fungal poisons) in Laos and Cambodia. Israel bombs Iraqi nuclear reactor, leading to Iraqi decision to build chemical weapons. 1984: UN confirms that Iraq is using mustard and nerve gases against Iranian "human wave" attacks in border war; US State Department issues mild condemnation, yet restores diplomatic relations with Iraq, and opposes UN action against Iraq. Bhopal fertiliser plant accident in India kills 2000, showing risks of chemical plants being damaged in warfare. President Reagan orders over a half-million M55 rockets retooled to contain high yield explosives as well as VX gas. 1985: US firms begin supplying Iraq with numerous biological agents for a four-year period. 1986: US resumes open-air testing of biological agents. 1987: Three tied Senate votes on question of resuming production of chemical weapons; Vice President Bush break ties in favour of resumption. 1988: Iraq uses chemical weapons against Kurdish minority in Halabjah; President Reagan blocks congressional sanctions against Iraq. 1989: Paris conference of 149 nations condemns chemical weapons, urges quick ban to emerge from Geneva treaty negotiations; US planned to produce poison gas even after treaty signed. 1990: US, Soviets pledge to reduce chemical weapons when all nations have signed future Geneva treaty. Israel admits possession of chemical weapons; Iraq threatens to use chemical weapons on Israel if it is attacked. 1991: US and coalition forces bomb at least 28 alleged bio-chemical production or storage sights in Iraq during Gulf War, including fertiliser and other civilian plants. CNN reports "green flames" from one chemical plant and the deaths of 50 Iraqi troops from anthrax after air strike on another site. Czechoslovak chemical warfare unit detects Sarin nerve gas during air war. Egyptian doctor reports outbreak of a "strange disease" inside Iraq. US troops use explosives to destroy Iraqi chemical weapons storage bunkers after the war. 1992: Reports intensify of US and coalition veterans developing health problems, symptoms collectively called "Gulf War Syndrome". Two members of anti-government Minnesota Patriots' Council arrested for planning to use ricin chemical against law enforcement officer. 1993: President Clinton continues intermittent bombing and missile raids against Iraqi facilities; UN inspectors step up program to dismantle Iraqi weapons. US signs UN chemical weapons convention, but approval later blocked in Senate. 1995: Japanese cult releases deadly Sarin nerve gas in attack on Tokyo subway system. 1996: Congressional hearings on Gulf War Syndrome focuses on Iraqi storage bunker destruction, no other possible causes, and does not call for international investigation for symptoms among Iraqis. 1997: Cuba accuses US of spraying crops with biological agents. Iraq expels US citizens in UN inspection teams, which are allowed to continue without Americans, but the UN chooses to evacuate all inspectors. US mobilises for military action. Senate implements Chemical Weapons Convention, with a provision that the "President may deny a request to inspect any facility" on national security grounds. 1998: US again bombs alleged Iraqi bio-chemical weapons sites, after Iraq questions role of UN inspector, and restricts inspector access to presidential properties and security. US launches missile attack on pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that allegedly produces nerve gas agents — a claim disputed by most of the international community. 1998-99: Series of Anthrax hoaxes against targets such as NBC, "Washington Post", State Department, White House complex, post offices. Former Aryan Nations member Larry Wayne Harris carries out anthrax hoax to dramatise warning of alleged "Iraqi threat". Three members of Republic of Texas militia group arrested for intention to use anthrax and other biological agents against public officials. Upsurge in anthrax hoaxes against abortion clinics. 2000: "Top off exercise" involving federal and state authorities fails to cope with simulated chemical, biological and nuclear attacks in three widely separated metropolitan areas. 2001: US withdraws from first round of Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention (BTWC), crippling efforts to establish global measures against biological weapons. Anthrax spores mailed to political and media targets around the US result in exposures, infections, and deaths. Enormous increase in anthrax hoaxes by "Army of God" and other groups and individuals.
* * **Compiled from articles in Z magazine by Stephen Shalom and Noam Chomsky (February 1991) and Zoltan Grossman (March 1991), from the Council for the Liveable World, William Blum's Killing hope: US Military and CIA interventions since World War II, ADL Militia Watchdog by Mark Pitcavage (Feb 1999) and from recent news reports. Grossman is a cartographer/geographer and writer on ethnic relations and geopolitics, based in Madison, Wisconsin. Acknowledgements People's Voice, Canada's communist paper.